Josh’s 2021 Year-in-Review 

It’s cool and all that journalism is “the first draft of history.” Sometimes it would be cooler if the history wasn’t quite so overbearing as it was last year.

I can’t complain too much, though. 2021 provided a bounty of stories to cover and controversies to comment on. Many of them related to the disease-that-shall-not-be-named. Amazingly, though, many of the topics I covered still would have arisen under the most unassuming circumstances. In the world of California land use, we returned to regularly scheduled programming: the housing policy, environmental protection, traffic, and ceaseless debates over everything from baseball stadiums to granny flats.

From behind my N95 mask in West Los Angeles—and a few more exotic venues—here’s what I got up to in 2021…

The Urban Mystique Forges Ahead
Having actually gotten out of my apartment this year, I’ve been delighted to spy The Urban Mystique on many of my friends’ bookshelves. Hopefully it’s made its way into the homes of at least a few people I don’t know!

In December I moderated a (live and in-person) discussion with fellow Angeleno land use enthusiast Paul Haddad about his book Freewaytopia: How Freeways Shaped Los Angeles at the new Village Well bookstore in Culver City. I had the pleasure of witnessing a member of the reading public buying The Urban Mystique right before my eyes (exciting action photo attached). Thanks to Jen Caspar and her team there. You can get your own copy at Village Well or via Solimar Books. And it’s available for rating and comments on Amazon and Goodreads.

I had a great time talking shop with Andy Keatts for ULI San Diego and the Voice of San Diego podcast in June. I was also a guest on a segment on the racial dimensions of freeways for KXJZ Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. Dr. Matt Johnson interviewed me about the psychological dimensions of city design in Psychology Today.

In previous editions of this newsletter, I have alluded to a forthcoming book. The pandemic had other ideas about that. I will not jinx it by citing the title or topic, but I will say that galleys are being proofread as we speak. Please stay tuned.

Here are three good California Planning & Development Report news stories involving the broader effects of the pandemic on the ways Californians live, work, and get their stuff. (With apologies to non-subscribers—and thanks to those of you who do subscribe—most news stories are behind the paywall.)

In California urban planning circles, 2021 was the Year of the Duplex (presaging the Duplex Wars, which are stirring now in certain cloistered suburbs across the state). Los Angeles lost a major, if not unproblematic, benefactor. Criticism of the YIMBY movements got more contorted, and Wall Street did what Wall Street does: take advantage of an unfortunate situation. I included a listicle that reminds us of just how long planning timelines can be. And, of course, the Metaverse arrived (sigh).

Book Reviews
I again contributed to Planetizen’s Top Planning Books of the Year; my favorite was Metropolis by Ben Wilson, an astonishingly comprehensive, insightful analysis of basically all of urban history. I wrote a handful of mini-reviews midyear (loved: The Dreamt Land by Mark Arax). In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower by Davarian Baldwin is not necessarily my favorite book of the year, but it did give me my favorite headline of the year: “The Miseducation of Cities.” Superstar historian Simon Winchester came out with an uneven but very interesting book about the history of land ownership in LandEverything Now by Rosecrans Baldwin is riddled with Southern California cliches and puzzlingly naïve takes on governance (completely coincidentally, my cousin Kate Wolf shared similar sentiments in The Nation).

All of these pieces and more are collected on my website, and if anyone wants to relive 2020 for comparison, here’s last year’s review. As always, I thank my editors—especially Bill Fulton, James Brasuell, and Martin Pedersen—for their support, and I thank my readers for reading, sharing, commenting on, and debating with everything I write.

Here’s to good reading and good health in 2022.